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Tue, Dec 14, 2004

Aero-Views: BE A PILOT On The Demise Of The Wings Channel

"We Did Our Part"

By Drew Steketee, President and CEO, BE A PILOT

(Over the weekend,ANN published an editorial saying GA pilots helped to bury the Discovery Wings Channel, which announced last week it will become the Military Channel. BE A PILOT President and CEO Drew Steketee has another view. We're proud to bring you his reply. --ed.)

The BE A PILOT program was the largest aviation sponsor on the soon to be gone Discovery Wings Channel -- by far. There were few others. One I know bought only nine commercials -- not enough to do anything on TV.

We did more than buy time: we proposed a few initiatives to them and offered advice on how to market to the aviation community. We certainly did our part. And we were proud that Discovery Wings actually became a sponsor of the BE A PILOT program. We then kept industry leaders informed about Discovery Wings' strong performance as an ad vehicle for BE A PILOT.

Not all our suggestions were taken by the Discovery Wings people, especially as to the idea that "aviation people" are needed to market to the aviation industry. But they were sharp marketers generally and did take the trouble to exhibit at Oshkosh, make the rounds of the manufacturers, etc..

I believe Discovery Wings found that:

1) aviation is used to (and satisfied with) the performance versus cost of magazine print advertising and other tried-and-true methods, especially in recent tight-budget years

2) those publications more directly reach a tight target audience of qualified (licensed) customers

3) those accustomed to print advertising are unused to the cost and ad frequencies of TV, especially since even cable TV may over-reach beyond their target audience

4) the industry stalwarts who have represented industry magazines for years have strong relationships in our community -- and a decades-long track record of being PART of the industry, not just selling to it.

Discovery's decision (beyond the lack of aviation advertising) also responds to the success of new, military-theme programming on The History Channel that's designed to bring in top value demographic groups like Men 18-24 and Men 25-54. Shows like "Mail Call" and "Tactical to Practical" are really working for History. Discovery Digital Networks also pursues those valuable demographic groups and needs to be as effective as possible against this new, strong competition. (Military-theme programming is pulling key audiences because 1) there's a war on, 2) military news is top-of-mind, 3) many younger men today are curious about military service, and 4) somewhat older men were never in the military (post-Viet Nam) and have not been exposed to the subject matter. It's new to them.

TV is a numbers game and a money business. It costs a lot, and it has to be paid for. I can't blame TV for the shift to the all-military shows -- intelligent History Channel. (They heard from me personally on that except perhaps for the low-brow promos for "Mail Call" on an otherwise subject at a meeting several years ago.)

For those who recognized the outreach value of an aviation TV channel, Discovery Wings' decision is a loss. For those who encouraged (and helped here and there) getting an aviation channel on the air, it's tough to see. But time marches on and the ad game waits for no man. The folks at Wings were nice enough to give BE A PILOT several months' advance notice on the upcoming change. They say The Military Channel will have some aviation theme nights or time periods -- although only in relation to military flying.

Almost any such exposure has the potential to interest those Men 25-54 and 18-24. BE A PILOT plans to continue our advertising with the channel as long as it delivers new pilot prospects. And since our prime response is in these demographic groups, Discovery says even more of them should be watching and responding to the BE A PILOT $49 first flying lesson offer.

Aviation and television is a tough one. Almost all of what the public sees of us on TV is bad news. Discovery Wings, once it developed from the earlier work of Phil Osborne and others, was great to have, even with a few weaknesses.

BE A PILOT will help keep personal flying on TV with nearly 2,000 commercials a season on several national cable networks. Our new media exposure program has earned POSITIVE news and feature coverage with nearly 1,000 media outlets in just 3.5 years -- including many on broadcast TV. We've also flown some 400 reporters on their first flying lesson.

Yes, we're sorry to see Wings go. Some of us in the aviation industry did try to help keep it going.

Let's hope The Military Channel -- and other aviation-oriented programing across the dial -- will do nearly as well at grabbing the eyeballs and interest of those who might want to do more than watch planes fly on TV.

If so, we've got the way they can give it a try.

FMI: www.beapilot.com

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